A year like no other: the Kettering neighbours who became a friendly community

William Street Kettering was nominated as one of Northamptonshire's best places to live by readers of this newspaper

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 12:44 pm

Whether you live in a cul-de-sac, a close or a crescent, a terrace, semi or detached, many people are familiar with just being on nodding terms with our neighbours.

This was the case in William Street, Kettering, a typical Victorian terraced street with people familiar in their immediate locale but a year living in a pandemic has changed all that.

With 66 houses, a small block of flats, a converted shoe factory and a thriving church, the street is no more remarkable than those near-identical streets running parallel.

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The William Street cleaners

The one thing that has made them shine in lockdown has been their determination to have fun and raise the residents' spirits with seasonal events, street cleans, an impromptu wedding and a carnival.

Martin McQueenie, resident and regular ringmaster of street events, said: "We are the best street in the world. I am proud of our street.

"What we wanted for us and especially for the children who live on the street was to look back and say we had the best pandemic."

It was back in March 2020 that the existing local Facebook alert page set up to warn residents of petty crime, anti-social behaviour and break-ins was switched to be used to assist those living in the street.

VE Day celebrations

Keli Watts said: "At the start of Covid, it was a way to help with people shopping or whatever they needed.

"Then we used the group to ask if people would come out and clap for carers.

"Then it was used to see if people wanted to come out into their front gardens and say hello. It's obvious that it is helping so many people."

As the lockdown continued, the weather improved and with more daylight, socially-distanced events were organised weekly with a street singalong led by Martin McQueenie, often dressed in fancy dress.

Snapshots from the year: Reindeer food; Pumpkin carving; Naughty Elf, fancy dress, Valentine's Day gifts, 'Hugh Jackman'

He said: "For the Sunday singalong I put up the lyrics of two songs - Hi Ho Silver Lining and Sweet Caroline - so people could read them on their phones and said we would go out and have a sing. I thought it won't happen unless there's a fool - that was me.

"The week after was Easter and we handed out Easter eggs to the children. After that we heard that someone was supposed to be getting married so we organised a prom for the street.

"We did a yearbook and I dressed as Piccachu but underneath I was wearing my wife's best dress and a sash. She got a shock when I took the Piccachu costume off."

The prom turned into a surprise non-wedding day for Emily Smith and Lewis Cosgrove who instead of a dream wedding in Greece had a 'Covid Coupling' in the street with Martin acting as officiant dressed as the Pope.

Halloween

During the past 12 months as restrictions have eased and been reimposed members of the community have held a Coronaval as a replacement for the cancelled Kettering Carnival raising more than £600 for Johnny's Happy Place charity.

They have organised work parties to paint the railings of All Saints Church and carry out regular street cleaning and weeding.

Regular competitions have been held including for pumpkin carving and best-dressed windows for Christmas.

Other activities have been a VE day party, a down the decades themed music events, secret santa, a street naughty elf on the shelf for children to see when out walking and numerous home-baked goodies and home-grown treats shared.

Birthdays are marked by socially-distanced singing.

Resident Kim Walker said: "We've all become friends, helped and supported each other and we throw a damn good party. The way we came together is incredible. Best neighbours ever."

The official opening of the Coronaval

The William Street residents are now planning their summer activities including a William Street in Bloom.

Martin's wife Mandy has handed seeds to her neighbours and they are hoping for a dazzling display to brighten up the gardens.

Martin, 56, added: "Before, we would say hello to our neighbours. We set out to revive the Blitz spirit. We got them out. The people who were at home it helped them. The people who were key workers - it helped them too. I don't think we'll go back to how we were before."

Tonight on the first anniversary neighbours will again come out into the streets and join in an 8pm clap.

Doing the Conga and Oops Upside Your Head
The Covid Coupling
The Coronaval